Three Filipinos Arrested amidst Predictions ‘Love Bug,’ Damages could Reach $10 Billion

Published May 8th, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

Three suspects were detained here Monday in connection with the "ILOVEYOU" computer virus that wreaked havoc on computer systems around the world, as Filipino and US authorities jointly seized documents and equipment, officials and sources said. 

The detention of the three suspects followed a police raid on the home of Manila couple Reomel Ramones and Irene de Guzman, both local bank employees. 

Also detained was de Guzman's sister, Jocelyn, who is also their babysitter. 

"We are still conducting an investigation and the raid was conducted on the strength of a search warrant," National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) director Federico Opinion said. 

He indicated that more suspects may be picked up in the probe, and that his office was considering seeking further search warrants. 

"There might be other parties involved in the case," he said after the raid, which was aided by agents from Interpol and US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), according to NBI sources. 

Computer equipment, telephone units and documents were seized during the raid, after which Ramones was taken to the NBI office here in a black car escorted by a convoy of NBI vehicles. 

The 27-year-old stepped out of the car and walked into the NBI office with his hands covering his face, accompanied by an NBI agent carrying what appeared to be a computer set. He refused to speak to investigators. 

Police and sources said de Guzman and his sister were detained separately. 

Opinion told reporters that even though the three suspects were not named in any arrest warrant, the seizure of potential evidence allowed police to detain them. 

Authorities were earlier concerned that key evidence could have been destroyed following the wide publicity over the case. 

In the United States, security firm ICSA.net, said comparisons of the "ILOVEYOU" virus with a password-stealing program written earlier indicate the author is a student at AMA Computer College in the Philippines. 

Michelle Navarro, the school's dean of students, said it has more than 10,000 computer programming students nationwide, 3,000 of them at its main campus in Quezon City in metropolitan Manila.  

She said she was unaware of any student having created a computer virus or being involved in any computer-related offense.  

In a statement, the school said it will "never condone any act which will result in the improper use of information technology to the detriment of society." It said school authorities have been directed to cooperate with investigators in "pinning down the culprit as well as his or her allies, if any." 

It is believed the virus was unleashed from a desktop computer, infecting an estimated 10 million computers worldwide, including terminals at the White House, Congress and Pentagon, as well as the British and Danish parliaments and hundreds of US, German, French, Spanish and Swiss companies. 

According to an estimate Monday from California-based Computer Economics, the virus and its variants have already caused economic damage worth nearly five billion dollars. 

"It is clear that the total economic impact of these worms will exceed 10 billion dollars before we can reach eradication," said Michael Erbschloe, the company's vice president of research. 

But a Swedish computer expert said in Stockholm on Sunday he believed the Filipino suspect spread the virus, but was not its creator. 

Philippine Internet service providers have confirmed their systems were used to spread the virus around the world in a matter of hours via e-mail messages entitled "ILOVEYOU." 

At least nine variants of the bug were later identified, sent out under subject headings including "Joke," "Very Funny" and "Mother's Day Order Confirmation." 

The original bug was allegedly planted last month by a hacker who identified himself alternately as "mailme," "spyder" and "ispyder," and left a message saying "I hate to go to school." 

According to some reports, a comparison of notes by local Internet service providers narrowed down the suspects. 

Opinion said that preliminary investigations indicated computer hackers in the Philippines could only be charged with mischief, "a very minor crime." 

"But we are still investigating further," he said. 

What happens next legally, meanwhile, is unclear, given the vague laws against cyber-crime in this country, officials said. Up to now, Philippine courts have yet to issue an arrest warrant sought by the NBI. 

Officials in the Philippines said the emergence of the "Love Bug" had highlighted the need for the government to immediately adopt legislative measures that would deal with computer hackers. 

"We don't have a particular law of this kind in the Philippines. This has highlighted the need for the government to come up with a specific anti-hacking law," an official with the state National Computer Center told AFP. 

He said the Senate has so far approved an e-commerce law that would legalize business transactions done through the Internet that would serve as a "first step" towards enacting other Internet-related laws. 

"So if the perpetrator is caught, you could only charge him with traditional laws, maybe only malicious mischief," he said. 

NBI sources said they were trying to convince Filipino courts to issue arrest warrants to enable the government to prosecute suspects for the use of telecommunications "access devices" to gain unauthorized entry to other computers. 

Violations are punishable by a maximum jail term of 10 years, they said. 

A US Justice Department source said that while Manila has an extradition treaty with the United States, many of whose government agencies were disrupted by the "love bug," the suspect could not be extradited there as the crime punishable in the United States does not exist here. 

The source cited a US law that penalizes illegal access to computers, which results in government operations being affected. Arrest of the love bug suspects follows the conviction of the Melissa Virus' creator last year. To date, this is the deadliest virus since the launch of Chernobyl, otherwise known as CIH, which crippled computers worldwide by erasing BIOSs. The unleashing of the virus also follows denial of service attacks against Yahoo! and other large portals earlier this year that has put computer crime in the limelight and now has major law enforcement agencies across the globe forging channels of cooperation – (AFP) 

© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

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